Today’s guest post comes from Seth Silverbush. Seth is currently relocating from Los Angeles to North Carolina, where he plans to open a bakery and continue writing.
Stacey takes up most of my computer screen, but I mostly find myself peering at my own face in the box at the bottom right hand corner, ensuring I look okay. My brown tee compliments my shit-colored eyes and receding auburn hairline. Apparently I traded away hair for the opportunity to drink in bars without my fake ID. Of course the kicker is that, without Stacey here, the only times I’m reaping the benefits of my newest flimsy New York ID is when I throw a case of Guinness on the grocery’s checkout counter to make my vanilla floats a bit more adult. I pretend to scratch my head, delicately repositioning fine hairs to cover a bald spot. Stacey is telling me via Skype how she worked makeup on this photo shoot today and how some guy mistook her for one of the models. I figure she might just be trying to make me jealous, as she does, but acknowledgment doesn’t ease any suspicion. Up in Vermont I could handle it because I knew that I could pull on the belt loop of those dark blue jeans of hers and bring her close to my body. Protect her. Squeeze any uncertainty out of her. To try and make me jealous while I’m six hours away is cruelty. I tell her that I should consider returning to University for a Masters so that I can be with her while she finishes her undergrad degree. I’d be really good at photography with a Masters degree, I joke. No reaction.
“I was running around the set looking for my shears and I jammed my pinky toe so bad.” She frowns.
“Can I kiss it?”
“Yes pwease.” She nods her head. “The nail practically popped off.”
“Gross!” I laugh. “Never mind.”
“Hey!” She giggles between words. “You already promised.”
“No I didn’t.” I’m still laughing mostly because she’s laughing and it makes me happy to see her little dimple – the one that sprouts just at the end of her lips like a sideways exclamation point. I hear my mother call me from downstairs for dinner. Stacey and I both say I love you before signing off.
My mother is still in work clothes, but now has a thick cotton scrunchy in her head, likely to keep her graying hair from falling into the tomato sauce. I’m shoveling pasta in my mouth, while she uses hers for talking. She tells me that she has off from work on Thursday. Parent / teacher conferences. I guess parents don’t want to hear what the school’s secretaries do with their time. She wipes her mouth with her paper napkin before proceeding, asking me if I can spend the day with her or if I’ll be working. I tell her I’ll be working. I lie. Things at the restaurant have been slow and all waiters have had hours cut.
My cell phone vibrates. My mother mistakes it for the garage. She seems surprised, pleased even, that my father could be coming home this early, or coming home at all. I feel bad when I tell her it was only my phone. I lift it out of my pocket to peek at the message: Stacey telling me that she made it onto a magazine cover. Underneath the table, I covertly text her back to ask if she’s serious. My mom urges me to take salad, points to the bowl where greenish lettuce sits stiffly, pathetically, but I ignore her when I feel another vibration in my pocket. A photo of Stacey’s busted pinky toe in front of some magazine cover. I’m hysterical.
“What’s so funny?” My mom inquires. I rub my face, trying to push my cheeks down to quit laughing so hard.
“Just tell me.” She says more seriously.
“Nothing.” My voice goes up, matching my eyebrows.
“You stink.” My mother huffs, returns to her food.
My laughter dies down but my cheeks are hurting. Next Stacey texts me a close-up photo of her hugging her pillow, seducing the camera with her eyes. I ask my mom about her plans for her day off because I feel guilty that I keep snubbing her for Stacey, but I furtively tap a few buttons on my phone to send her a response amid my mother’s words. I wish i could smuggle with u. I hit the send key. Smuggle immigrants? She texts me back and I smile, realizing that I typed “smuggle” instead of “snuggle.”
“What’s funny now?” My mom interrupts her own response to my empty inquiry to ask me.
“I wanna laugh too.” She says sadly.
I swear, I look fatter in Skype than I do in person; I’m trying to convince Stacey. Something about being framed by rectangles, I say. Stacey’s perched on a chair in front of her computer’s camera but is scrolling through her phone. After a minute of silence, I try to lure her back into conversation by asking her how her night went last night at her friend’s party. I watch her face light up as she describes the messy drinking games, the High School party crashers, the late-night cigarette conversations. I want to reach through my dusty monitor to kiss that face, but I can’t. I’m beginning to feel like her diary. When she eventually – systematically – returns the question, I admit my night was far less exciting. Dinner with Mom. I see Stacey begin to nod off back to her phone’s Facebook or Instagram (or maybe it’s Twitter), and I don’t want to lose Stacey’s attention, so I share more.
“She started crying at the dinner table.” I say, my head bowed recalling the moment. At least it’s enough to keep Stacey interested. “She was thinking about how she can’t really dance anymore because of her bum knee and she started crying.”
“So what’d you do?” Stacey asks.
“I… ate… chicken.”
Stacey purses her lips in a scolding sort of way. “You should have hugged her.”
“I dunno.” I mumble, assessing the situation, realizing I would not have felt comfortable getting up from my seat to console my mother. I change the subject. I ask Stacey to come down to New York before summer ends and her fall classes begin.
“I don’t know, I’m really busy these next couple weekends.” She pokes around on her phone. “Why don’t you come up here?”
“I was just there in June.”
“It’s your turn.”
“Well, I have photo shoots the next two weekends.” She thinks. “Maybe September.” I force a smile. I hear my mother wandering about outside my room in the hallway so I tap the volume button to prevent my private conversation from reaching her ears.
My mother calls out through my closed door: “I just put a roll of toilet paper in your bathroom. I hope you weren’t using tissues, they can clog the toilet.”
I shut my eyes in embarrassment. “I wasn’t.” I tell her.
“I hope not.”
“I wasn’t!” I shout. I look back at the monitor and Stacey is giggling. I try to smile to confront the humiliation.
“You better not be usin’ tissues.” Stacey jokes.
“I wasn’t.” I say, half smiling.
I’m staring at the small box in the bottom right-hand corner of my computer screen just because I can’t look Stacey in the face at this point. She keeps talking, explaining, rationalizing – her eyes out of focus from her own tears – reasons why she hooked up with someone else. I’m concentrating on details of myself mostly to avoid thinking of this other person who stole her from me. My coarse beard, averting attention from my waning, reddish top. The tiny hole in the collar of my undershirt that appeared after last week’s load of whites. I can feel a low rumble underneath my feet that I recognize as the garage opening. My father, I suppose, coming home finally after a night of who-knows-what. I glance at Stacey through my laptop. She has her hands over her face now, drying her eyes with her palms. Through her sniffling I can hear my mother’s sharp tone, addressing my father who must have walked in. My bedroom door is shut, but certain words are audible from outside like “nothing” and “office” and “drinks” and “service.” I have no idea how he’ll bullshit his way through this one, but I hope he does, for my mother’s sake. I can hear her crying already – or maybe that’s Stacey? I look back at the screen and regrettably catch Stacey’s eyes.
“There’s not much we need to say.” I sigh. Stacey shakes her head and keeps insisting what she did was stupid, but cleverly never uses the word “mistake.” We both knew this would come eventually; I just wanted to delay it for a while longer. The final piece of college finally breaking loose. I reach over to my desk and shut my laptop. I keep my left hand against the cold metal. Background noise becomes clear.
“No, I stayed at a friend’s apartment, he has an extra place he rents out.” I can hear my father cling on to some implausible excuse.
“I want the number.” My mother says loudly, accusingly.
“Give me the number I wanna call.”
“What are you crazy?”
“Yeah I’m crazy what’s the number?” She’s frantic.
“You’re not calling.” He says defensively.
“Why? Were you not there?”
I step away from my desk and listen from behind my door. The two of them curse in a battle of volume before a door shuts; my father storming out, I assume. The house is quiet again. I reach into my pocket for my phone, which I toss onto my desk, missing, falling elsewhere. I slowly turn my doorknob. My socks slide on the wood, nearing the dining room table where my mother’s back is to me. She’s sitting there with a solitary bowl of cereal. Her recently dyed hair balances on her shoulders. When I walk even closer, she still doesn’t turn. I touch her shoulder and her neck twists to show tears filling cracks in aged skin and I wrap my arms around her and she begins sobbing into my tee shirt as she embraces me from her chair.
“Thank you!” Sounding pleasantly surprised, she tells me again between cries. “Thank you!” Tears escape my eyes, too, while I hold my mother in my arms. I feel my shirt dampen from where her face is buried, but I keep my mother close, preventing her from witnessing my tears while I desperately try to blink them away. “Thank you!”